In 1986 Dark Angel pushed the boundaries of metal and thrash even further (though we all thought impossible at the time), and when "Darkness descends" hit the shelves the fans were helpless and completely unprepared for the onslaught of brutality which awaited them. I do love this album, and after seeing this band live three times, damn are the songs on this record good to slam to! Having said that, I do not agree with most thrash fans sentiments toward this album, saying it is the most important thing to ever happen to thrash. I mean take a breather guys...where would the genre be without Venom? And realistically this album is slightly mired by the muddy tone, which automatically takes "Reign in blood" a few notches higher up the food chain.
But the speed and intensity on this album was enough to make everybody stand up and pay attention. Perhaps one of the fastest (if not just fastest) thrash album ever? In terms of speed for '86 this album wins by a landslide. But as much as it pains me to say, there is more to thrash than just speed alone. I personally feel there are a few production issues, some killer riffs are buried into the mix, and on top of that, the playing tends to gets so fast some of the riffs just end up going "buzzzzzzzz...". Kind of a shame really. If the production had been perfect it might just have been Slayer who were an after thought. There are some absolute crackers here though. The atmospheric bass licks which introduce "Merciless death" is a great use of dynamics and climax. The savage riffs which ensue are literally magic. "Darkness descends" takes a while to get itself going, but when it's all bombs away, it's fast-I mean it has got to be heard to be believed. The drumming by Gene Hoglan is of note, perhaps especially for this track. Listen to the drumming at the beginning, and you can clearly see where Lars Ulrich got his inspiration for the blasts on the famous Metallica track "One" released two years later.
"The burning of sodom" has some amazing riffs, and "Death is certain life is not" has the kind of sentiments one should live by and on top of that the riffs are spectacular. The vocals by Don Doty are satisfying but in some areas I'm scratching my chin. One minute he sounds like a hardcore punk singer, perhaps even suitable for a slew of the upcoming East Coast cross-over bands which were emerging at this time. But then he throws in a few high-pitched agonized screams ala Tom Araya, and then other times his vocal style is gruff barking. It's quite funny really because a lot of modern thrash vocalists throw in as many influences as possible, in doing so coming across as a bit o.t.t and sticking out like a sore thumb. But Don Doty had this kind of a style, before it was considered a style...because at the time his style was quite questionable in some areas. Don Doty does a good job, he may not be a Blitz, Araya, Hetfield or Sheepdog, but his wild and chaotic style will grow on you...think more along the lines of Paul Baloff.
It seems quite odd really trying to sum up the infamous record which is "Darkness descends" in a few simple paragraphs, but for the purposes of the readers I will start winding my review down to its conclusion. "Darkness descends" is not the best or most important thrash album ever. There is too much aggression and some hints of inexperience creeping into the fold. The songs just tend to get faster and faster, without so much as a curve ball, a tempo change, or breakdown. Kreator's "Pleasure to kill" works better than this album, thanks to the evil dynamics in songs like "Under the guillotine". "Reign in blood" wowed everybody with it's intensity, catchiness and slick production value. And "Master of puppets" may have been outdone by all three albums in terms of speed, but that album offered depth and complete and utter transcendence, that it just really did not matter. But focusing on the positives this album just rips and still sounds brutal today. Dark Angel would start injecting a lot more variation into later albums, and for my personal tastes, it worked out better for them. Ditching Don Doty for future releases also seemed like a more well-thought out plan as well. The best thrash album ever...? Err no! Sorry to disappoint kiddies but it's true. But this album has enough going for it that I still listen to it over twenty years later, so just remember that before you pass this one up.